Success and Failure

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PROJECT :SUCCESS AND FAILURE
 WHAT IS SUCCESS, WHAT IS FAILURE, AND HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE YOUR ODDS FOR SUCCESS?

 
Robert Frese
Systems Analysis
Dr. Vicki Sauter
UM-St. Louis
December 16, 2003
 
We know why projects fail, we know how to prevent their failure – so why do they still fail?”(2)This statement could be applied to the recent Space Shuttle disaster, or the 2003 collapse of a large portion of the U.S. electrical grid.  But the author was talking about Information Technology and Information System project failures, as they existed in 1994.  Information Technology and Information System failures have been the topic of many articles, conferences, symposiums, studies, and research initiatives.  The literature of the IT and IS community is rife with articles and commentary about project failures.   But just how bad is the situation?  Do a large percent of projects really fail or do we only hear the bad news?  What is failure and what is success?  And lastly, what can you do to improve your success quotient?  Let’s start by looking at project failure rates and why projects fail. There are many writers who tell us why projects fail.  For instance, Field(12) tells us that “projects fail too often because the project scope was not fully appreciated and/or user needs not fully understood.”  Hulme(13) tells us that “MIS projects and associated procurements take place in an environment characterized by the following:  Lack of management continuity and an incentive system that encourages overly optimistic estimates of the benefits that can be attained from doing the project.”  And Leicht(5) tells us that high user expectations can actually be the cause of project failure.  Hoffman(15) tells that projects fail because of poor alignment between IT departments and business users. And in another article Hoffman(9) tells us that project managers too often act as “process cops and report compilers and loose sight of what they’re supposed to be doing – to make sure projects are running effectively”.   Hodgson(23)style='mso-bidi-font-weight:normal' tells us that “projects fail – that’s the fact of life.  Too many fail because the average project is like an iceberg – 9/10ths of it lay hidden from view”.  All of these writers are correct.  But none of these authors are reporting systematic research of the mechanisms that cause project success or failure.   And none of them provide insight into the rate of project failures. How Often Do Projects Fail and How Can This be Measured?

In a 2003 article Julia King(10) reports, “At companies that aren’t among the top 25% of technology users, three out of 10 IT projects fail on average.  Translation:  for these companies an amazing 30% of IT projects fail.  Now if you are an extremely optimistic person you might conclude the good news is that 70% of these projects succeed.  But note that King does not tell us how many of the 70% of the “successful” projects were over budget, over time, or defective in function upon completion.  There are many ways to measure success and failure, but there is no strict dividing line between the two. Baker(20) concludes, “Like everything else, the definition of project failure is in a state of flux.” And O’Brochta(18) tells us that “the big problem with assessing project success is that it is not precise.”   O’Brochta continues, “This dynamic can often be the Achilles heal for a project.  Without a dependable understanding of what constitutes success, the project is placed in the untenable position of being judged against differing criteria, and invariably becomes one more failure statistic reported by research firms such as Standish, Gartner, Forrester, and others.”  

And so, Lewis(7) tells us that “On average, about 70% of all IT-related projects fail to meet their objectives.”   In this case Lewis includes not only projects that were abandoned (failed), but also those that were defectively completed due to cost overruns, time overruns, or did not...
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